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Thread: State of the nation address by Evita Bezuidenhout

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    State of the nation address by Evita Bezuidenhout

    29 SEPTEMBER 2008

    Let me start by sharing a State Secret with you about the State of the Nation. The nation is fine. There is no crisis. It is business most unusual, but not surprising. One would expect this fourteen-year old democracy to once again prove itself to be unique.

    We do not follow some blueprint for survival. We are the blueprint. Only we would swop a former president with a degree in economics and the vision of an African Renaissance, for a possible future president with Standard Three and a machinegun in his song. Jacob Zuma still has a few months in which to find his umshini wami. Meanwhile: the nation is fine.

    In a democracy it is normal to be surprised by change. As the great Greek philosopher Daelius Hertus said: 'If democracy is too good to share with just anyone, it is time to ask the question: Quo Vadis.' So where to?

    Apartheid was democracy for the few. So South Africa did ask that question. 'Quo Vadis?' In 1976, Soweto shook the foundations of the land. 'Liberation before Education' became the war cry of the Struggle and eventually we got liberation at the cost of a generation without education. 1990 was another sinkhole that swallowed up a bad political mistake and replaced it with an impossible dream come true. We whites got away with apartheid. There was no Nuremburg Trial. None of us was hung like Saddam Hussein for crimes against humanity. In fact President Nelson Mandela even invited some of us to join his Government of National Unity. 1994 became the first year in the life of this
    new chance for all. Then after a glorious five years with Nelson Mandela as our first democratically-elected president, he stepped down - which is very un-African - and made way for the vision of Thabo Mbeki.

    Once I got over the shock that the name 'Thabo' was an anagram for 'Botha', I realized that this was not just politics as usual. It was a calling. Thabo Mbeki had been planning his campaign for 30 years, sipping whisky in a Brighton hotel. He was not the favourite to succeed Madiba. But as an eventual graduate from the University of Moscow and a Stalinist Cum Laude, he soon cut our democratic foot to fit his authoritarian shoe. The rich got richer and the poor just became a statistic. 'Ignore them and they will go away' was the shrug of commitment from Ama-Tswane, and they did go away in spite of the generous helpings of beetroot, African potatoes and garlic.

    I was always very impressed by Thabo Mbeki. Not only did he look so nice in his little suits, his hair was always neat and even though we had to put Tipex in his beard to make him look older and more distinguished, he eventually grew into the image of leader and visionary. His speeches were legendary. They overwhelmed me with their brilliance. I never knew what he meant, but he said
    it so nicely, quoting from Shakespeare, Woolworths and Thesaurus. But he was never here.


    On the few occasions when Thabo Mbeki came to South Africa on his short state visits, it was usually only before an election to show a human side to his Mbekivellian designs. He would hug children, kiss old ladies and shake hands. He became a man of the people. What we didn't know was that after the
    cameras left, he would vomit for hours, allergic to the touch of the common populace.

    In Afrikaans we say: 'wat jy saai, sal jy maai.' Whereas in Shakespeare, enemies were dispatched by knife, sword or pike, in Thabo's world they were either swallowed up by the collective leadership, sent to Taiwan as ambassador, or elbowed out into the real world of business and commerce.

    Then came Polokwane, the ANC's Rubicon. Like P.W. Botha, who was eventually washed off his pedestal by the waves of farewell after his famous speech, Thabo was spectacularily stranded on the sandbank of irrelevance by the recent Zunami. It brought home that fatal lesson: never take democracy for granted. Two centres of power emerged: the Mbekivellians to the right and the Jacobians
    to the left. In an upside-down political turmoil the lowest common denominator tends to float on top. The nation was appalled to see the likes of a Julius Malema annexing the media headlines with cries to kill and eliminate. The tripartite alliance (from apartheid to tripartite? Does history always repeat itself in rhyme and rythmn?) from Communist to Cosatuist was demanding pieces of the melktert of power.

    But democracy is not the motionless stone statue of a roaring lion. It is a shaggy old dog that needs to give itself a good shake every now and then so that the fleas can fall off. In the last week the fattest fleas have flown in all directions. The Angel of Death, formerly Minister of Health, is now in
    the Presidency as Minister, having taken over from the Eminence Gris, Essop the Dour. I once met him in a dark passage and thought I'd be catapulted into the underworld of 'The Lord of the Rings.' The King of the Orcs! But Manto is happy. She will now always be near the Cabinet! Will her new liver finally reject the body?


    The Minister of Intelligence is also gone. Ronnie Kasrils was always more the one and less of the other. They say he was better off with his former portfolio where he could smoke examples of his forestry. Terror, the Minister of War, is gone and left us with expensive boats that don't sail, priceless
    submarines that won't submerge, state-of-the-art fighter planes that rust on the ground and a wish list of a few more billion rands worth of heavy-muscle armaments. We still don't know who the enemy is. Maybe we the people were seen as the greatest enemy and we have paid the price in hard-earned rands as a result.

    While the Crown Prince of the ANC dances in his feathers and rare and protected animal skins and assagaais and spears, the party managed to stop the roundabout of chaos and take stock. ANC no longer stood for African National Congress but A Nice Cheque. Was this the liberation movement of Tambo, Sisulu and Mandela that came out of the darkness to give us light? Had we all forgotten the legacy of Madiba who proved that if you love your enemy, you will ruin his reputation? Was there someone with a brain in Lutuli House who was listening to the instinct of survival and reconciliation? Or would the struggle-tsotsis and political pirates take over the ship of state?
    The trouble with opportunity is it normally comes dressed up as work.

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    continued...

    Comrade Cheryl Carolus once said to me when I was nervous about what the future would give us as we drifted further away from the optimism of 1994: 'Tannie Evita, the ANC will always explore every cul-de-sac before we find the freeway.' Behold the new Kgalema Motlante Boulevard! Taking up where the National Party left off, the NEC of the ANC removed the latest obstacle. Thabo Mbeki was recalled. I remember how we recalled John Vorster by kicking him upstairs to keep him out of jail during the Information Scandal. Then in 1989, we kicked President P.W. Botha into the Wilderness to keep us all out of jail. Then in 1990 F.W. de Klerk kicked open a cell door and let out the terrorist who turned out to be the hope for our future.

    Imagine where we would have been today if Nelson Mandela had come out of jail angry? How would you have felt? In jail for 27 years for what you believe in? Away from your children? Your wife goes mad? Nelson Mandela could so easily have come out of jail and spoken like Robert Mugabe. Nelson Mandela could so easily have said: 'To hell with democracy! Take the wealth and kill the whites!' And yes, hundreds upon hundreds of whites could have been killed and no one in the world or on CNN would have looked in our direction. But he didn't say that. None of them said that. Nelson Mandela came out of 27 years in jail with that beautiful smile and said: 'Tannie Evita? Give me another
    koeksister!'

    And so once again South Africa survives its own brand of coup d'etat. Getting rid of what clogs the sewerage pipes of political progress. But we don't do it with guns and blood, shock and awe. We get rid of our leader with embrace, gratitude and compassion, smiling with flowers in one hand and Tassenberg in the other, pushing them gently to the edge of the cliff and then with a final Amandla/ Vrystaat, dropping them out of the spotlight of power, usually without a legacy to stand on.


    The nation is fine. President Kgalema Motlanthe is a man of few press clippings. I have always called him by his third name Petrus. That's the only headache for me. After months of twisting my tongue round Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka, Nonzizwe Madlala-Routledge, Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma, I now have
    to work on Buyelwa Sonjica, Siyabonga Cwele, Nathi Mthethwao. . . (Hell, we were lucky with Tutu!) They say President Petrus is an interim leader till after the election of 2009. Interim is only a word you use in case you've made a wrong choice. If interim becomes impressive, inspirational and innovative, interim will happily become incumbent. No political party will want to fix something that is not broken. And as for Jacob Zuma? He is always there to remind us that democracy gives everyone a chance to enjoy the shower of acclaim. And also the downpour of disenchantment. Nelson Mandela proved that politicians first go jail and then into politics. Hopefully Jacob Zuma won't want to do it the other way round.

    But that's politics. We are the people. In a healthy democracy the people must lead and the government can follow. Our focus must be on the future of our children and our grandchildren. My three grandchildren are my inspiration. They are not white. They are not black. They are a Barack Obama beige. And they demand a future, because they believe democracy will make their dreams come true. Winnie-Jeanne, who is 11 years old, said to me: 'Gogo? Vukuzensele!' I said: 'Sies! Wat is dit?' She said that is Xhosa for 'Grannie, stand up and do something. Don't just sit there moaning and complaining and making white noise like so many others. If there is something about our politics that you don't like, stand up do something! Vukuzinsele!' And so I thought: Yes. I may be an Afrikaans Tannie. I might have supported apartheid for all those years only because I didn't know it was so horrible. Because no one told us. I knew nothing. Even though I am 73 years old today (and am still being impersonated by a third-rate comedian who is ten years younger than me but makes me look older and fatter) - in spite of all the things that should make me sit quietly in a chair and read Huisgenoot or watch Desperate Housewives (in the last week we've been glued to Desperate Comrades!) - I will get involved. I will make sure democracy stays in full working condition in spite of the struggle-tsotsis and political pirates who want to rape our Constitution and then have a shower of celebration after the treasonous act.

    The election of 2009 is not just between a ruling, mainly black party and an opposition that is mainly white and coloured. It is not about colour. It is not about power. It is not about cadres and comrades, or Zille, De Lille en hulle. The election is about the future of little Winnie-Jeanne Makoeloeli. Her dreams and her hopes. One child inspired, one child educated, one child saved could save the whole world.

    Remember this. In America there was a white woman who had a son. The father was a black man who didn't stay long. This white woman worked and sacrificed so that her small brown boy could be educated and believe that his dream could come true. On 4 November 2008 that dream might become a reality when Barack Obama becomes President of the USA. One child. One dream.
    The trouble with opportunity is it normally comes dressed up as work.

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